Guy Fawkes: Remember, Remember the 5th of November!

Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes


“Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason, why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot!
A stick or a stake for King James’ sake
Will you please to give us a fagot
If you can’t give us one, we’ll take two;
The better for us and the worse for you!”
‘Guy Fawkes Night’, or more commonly, ‘Bonfire Night’, is celebrated across the UK to commemorate the failure of the infamous Gunpowder Plot on November 5th, 1605 when Guy Fawkes (1570-1606) and his conspirators attempted to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James I/James VI Scotland (1566-1625).


What’s interesting about Bonfire Night is that Fawkes was only one of the thirteen conspirators led by ringleader Robert Catesby (1572-1608), yet it’s Fawkes’ name that remains synonymous with the night.
So who exactly was this celebrated anti-hero? Guy Fawkes was born on April 13, 1570 in York. While his father’s side of the family belonged to the Church of England, his mother’s family remained recusant Catholics, meaning, they refused to attend Anglican services. Fawkes’ father died when he was eight and his mother remarried another Catholic, further cementing his Catholic leanings. Fawkes had a storied military career fighting in the Eighty Years War for Spain and was even offered a captaincy for his service. Afterwards, Fawkes sought support to begin a Catholic rebellion in England, but those efforts were fruitless and he returned to England join up with fellow Catholics to plot the assassination of James I.


English Catholics were concerned they would have to endure continued oppression under James I, after enduring 45 years of persecution from his predecessor Elizabeth I (1533-1603). This time, English Catholics reacted and a plot was hatched to blow up the House of Lords on the opening day of Parliament. Fawkes became famous, or “infamous”, because he was selected to be the man to light the fuse. Unfortunately, Fawkes and his co-consirators were foiled when an anonymous letter was sent to fellow Catholic, Lord William Parker Monteagle (1575-1622) on October 26th warning him to avoid the House of Lords. The plotter’s concern about hurting fellow Catholics sealed their doom. The letter was enough to have the cellars under the House of Lords searched and Fawkes was caught red-handed with matches and torchwood.


Guy Fawkes was arrested, sent to the Tower of London where he admitted to the king his his regret in failing to blow up Parliament. Fawkes originally gave his torturers a fake name and tried to conceal his conspirator’s identities but ended up giving up the names of his accomplices. He was found guilty of high treason on January 27, 1606. He was hanged, drawn and quartered on January 31, 1606.
An Act of Parliament was passed that decreed every November 5th ‘a day of thanksgiving’ that was in force until 1859. Fireworks, bonfires, and the burning of effigies of Guy or current political figures, became regular parts of the celebration from the mid seventeenth century onwards. Fawkes’ visage has adorned the mask of protesters after the 2006 movie ‘V for Vendetta’s’ main protagonist, ‘V’ was loosely based on Fawkes.


The fireworks and bonfires enjoyed by revellers on the 5th of November represent the explosives that the Gunpowder plotters failed to use. Throughout England, there are Bonfire Societies hosting celebrations, parades and month long festivals leading up to November 5th. Yorkshire Parkin cakes are traditionally baked for Guy Fawkes Night and eaten over the course of the winter season. In London, there are numerous public parks holding bonfire nights across the city with music, food, and fireworks.

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